Deirdre Renniers: Designs for Holistic Healing
I was brought up in South Africa in the ’70s and ’80s. South Africa had a lot of problems and was very isolated at the time. I loved being part of the evolution of the old South Africa to the “new” South Africa. South Africans tend to have an attitude that anything is possible. It is a very liberating attitude. Moving to Asia had a huge influence on me. It required a transition in mind set. I lived in Tokyo for one year, and that had the greatest influence on me—more than anything else. I admire and respect the Japanese people and culture so much. My journey as an interior designer has taken me from South Africa to almost every corner of Asia. It has been a great experience.
Childhood Influences and my training
As a child, I remember designing houses with Lego or for my Barbie dolls. I was always interested in design, although I am not sure why. My journey formally started during my assessment to get accepted into design school. Until that moment, I thought I was going to study fashion or theatre design. I studied interior design at the University of Johannesburg. We were the 3rd year of students doing the course—it was very new in South Africa.
The early years: South Africa
After my studies, I went to London and worked for RHWL Partnership. It was a huge firm and I was at the very bottom of the pecking order. I learnt a lot during my time there. After that I worked for Design House in Cape Town. It was a
start-up firm and grew from 3 people to 20 people during my time there. It was a small firm that managed to gain a very good reputation in a short period of time. My boss had a talent for spotting potential and hiring excellent designers. It impressed me that the firm could produce exceptional design without him ever having to do any design work himself.
Moving to Singapore
I went to Singapore to work for Kerry Hill Architects. I believe I learnt more in my time there than during my entire career. I love his style of architecture, and interior design had to be applied very thoughtfully and carefully. He did not accept any conventional design. He was greatly influenced by Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. Kerry insisted that I read as much as possible on Bawa, and introduced me to his work in Sri Lanka. I was impressed by the simplicity of
Bawa’s work and how his design worked within the surrounding landscape. I believe that Kerry Hill really transformed me as a designer and I am very grateful to him for that.
I had a small studio in Cape Town before moving to Singapore, and enjoyed the freedom of working on my own. In Singapore, I pitched for a spa project with another designer who was starting up a design studio. We were awarded the contract and worked together for a year. During this time I was offered a project in Sri Lanka, and various other projects.
My design style
Basically, it is simple and honest. I always integrate all aspects of design, such as lighting and custom furniture, during conceptual design, so that the whole experience is consistent. I do a lot of thedrawings myself, so there is a higher level of attention to detail. I think this makes a huge difference.
I enjoy residential design but a lot of my work has been in the hospitality sector. Commercial design is very different. You have to make a space work efficiently and need to express corporate identity throughout the interior. There is very little emotional input. I work a lot with branding firms on these projects, and the whole process of design is very strategic. For residential design, the emotional input is high. For spa and hospitality design, I always try to create an experience, so the design needs to be done in the same manner that a theatre designer creates a stage setting for a performance. You have to think of the experience that you are creating for the end user.
"Experience changes everything—to the extent that my own life, travel, and exposure to various cultures have influenced my design significantly. South Africa and Singapore are both completely different in terms of design. South Africa is a very creative place with a lot of talent. The design over there tends to be joyful and fairly naïve, and there are always budget constraints. South Africa has a very particular design aesthetic that can’t be duplicated elsewhere – it would just not work."